PARAGUANA, Venezuela - An explosion tore through Venezuela's biggest oil refinery on Saturday, killing at least 24 people, wounding more than 80 others and halting operations at the huge facility in the OPEC nation's worst industrial accident in recent memory.
State TV showed footage of flames and billowing clouds of smoke coming from the refinery as dawn broke. Nearby homes were damaged by the blast, and officials said a 10-year-old child was among the dead.
"Unfortunately, 24 people have died, the majority of them members of our National Guard," Vice President Elias Jaua told reporters in local Falcon state. "Four people are in hospital right now, two were transferred to Zulia state and 50 people, thank God, were sent home after treatment because their injuries were not serious."
The deadly blast, caused by a gas leak, followed several minor accidents and unplanned stoppages that have afflicted state oil company PDVSA over the last decade, prompting critics to accuse President Hugo Chavez's government of mismanagement.